“I’m not celebrating because there is nothing to celebrate,” Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says. She and her nation observed her 76th birthday quietly, given the current Ebola crisis in the nation. As gifts, several groups presented the President with Ebola supplies.
According to the Liberian Observer, President Sirleaf spent the day in her office, telling reporters that she would not take time off from running the country while Ebola is rampaging through both capital and countryside. Although there are reports surfacing that the pace at which Ebola is spreading appears to be slowing down.
While she did not leave the office, the president did receive a number of representatives from national organizations, who came bearing gifts. “She received and held discussions with several individuals and institutions, some of whom presented her with gifts among which were donations in support of government’s efforts to fight the Ebola Virus Disease,” the newspaper explains. “The gifts included birthday cakes, an ambulance and many anti-Ebola supplies, including buckets, chloride and disinfectants.” The paper adds the president reacted with “great delight.”
Not all the gifts were strictly practical, however. One group, representing a sorority organization, brought the President a “masterpiece cake” with a photo of herself on it. President Sirleaf nonetheless kept the attention on the Ebola outbreak: “my major request is for us to remain vigilant until Ebola is kicked out of our country.”
Using her birthday to highlight the fight against Ebola is a potential masterstroke for a president who has been hounded by bad press alleging the government’s reaction to the spread of Ebola has been less than competent. Even worse, President Sirleaf’s son, Dr. James Adama Sirleaf, told the Wall Street Journal that he had no interest in returning to Liberia to treat Ebola patients despite having an extensive medical background. “The symbolism of me going there and potentially getting Ebola when I have a nine- and a seven-year-old at home isn’t worth it just to appease people,” he admitted, triggering national outrage. Dr. Sirleaf has since apologized.
Liberia’s medical situation appears, by all accounts, to be improving. The number of new cases seems to be going down, and medical professionals have increased the presence of Ebola Treatment Units in high-risk urban areas. While the signs are encouraging to Liberia, cases in Sierra Leone appear to be increasing as the virus moves west, and inches ever close to the capital, Freetown.